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Monterey Eating, Part I: Tico’s in Marina, and a Passionfish Update

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I had originally planned to put my report on weekend dining in Monterey into one loonngg report, but the way my work week was going I knew if I did I’d never get it done…so will break it into parts..

Up first: Passionfish. We ate there Friday night for the umpteenth time. As my profile indicates, I am a big fan, so won’t belabor the love too much, but wanted to add a few comments. We had:

Mussels in a spicy tomato/cilantro broth: these were a special appetizer; I’ve enjoyed them before, ordered them again, as good as ever. Very spicy. When PF says something has a kick, believe them.

Greek salad: this was a new one to us, and hubby’s face broke into a BIIGG smile when the server informed him that the Greek salad had no lettuce: apparently some customers had complained about that, but hubby, who has traveled fairly extensively in Greece and claims he never even saw lettuce served there, feels that lettuce shouldn’t be part of a Greek salad. The salad did have deep fried olives, which I am not sure are authentically Greek either, but hubby seemed to really like those. :-). In any event, he polished it off and was very happy; commented that he wished he could make a dressing as balanced as the one on the salad.

For mains I ordered halibut, a special, and hubby had salmon. I thought the salmon was somewhat overcooked (more medium than the advertised medium rare), but the halibut was excellent, grilled and served with a red pepper sauce and sautéed greens.

The highlight however, was dessert: when I heard there was peach cobbler (served warm with vanilla ice cream) on the menu, I had to order it. I love peach cobbler. It was great. Actually, it was outstanding. But it wasn’t the best dessert on the menu: thank goodness hubby ordered the raspberries, served with a reduced cabernet sauce over vanilla ice cream, rather than just agreeing to share the cobbler as I had suggested. These were some of the best raspberries I’ve ever had. Good enough that I just had to ask their source for raspberries: and was told it is Vasquez Farms in Moss Landing. This farm would be well worth checking out…I was also told that their golden raspberries are wonderful.

Couldn’t find a website for Vasquez Farms, but a quick Google reveals that they are at the San Jose Downtown Farmer’s Market.

http://www.pcfma.com/marketproducer.p...

I looked for them at the Salinas FM on Saturday (more on that in Report #2), but they weren’t there. Anyone know where I might find them in the bay area?

Anyway, back to dinner: our total bill with tax but before tip for a half bottle of Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc, two apps, two mains, two desserts, and a coffee, was $97. Passionfish remains a great value in my book.

After that dinner, we had to sleep in a bit, so it was about nine-thirty by the time we got to Tico’s in Marina for breakfast, following a lead Ed Dibble had given us in the thread below;

http://www.chowhound.com/topics/427132

Tico’s was fairly busy, thanks to one large family group that was finishing their breakfast as we arrived, but we were seated promptly at a comfortable table, big enough to spread out the paper. There are a few tables outside, but there isn’t any type of a view, and in any case it was too foggy and cold for outdoor dining on Saturday am.

Over good coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice that was quickly brought to us, we settled in to read the menu. And what a menu: there is a regular menu, a written weekend specials menu, AND a white board menu, and everything sounded great! White board specials included an Italian sausage omelet; a scramble with spinach and baby artichoke hearts; apple pancakes; a provolone, mozzarella, fresh tomato and basil pizza…and the written specials included a sweet corn omelet, fresh mango pancakes…I mean, how does anyone choose? Then there was a separate board for desserts, including a blueberry buckle; berries with crème anglaise; and a lemon tart….

Well, I was on a mission for huevos rancheros, and they are on the regular menu, so for me the choice was easy. Sort of. Since I am somewhat fussy about my huevos, and a bit of a purist, first I verified: corn tortillas (not flour)? Check. Eggs Over easy (never scrambled)? Check. Ok, I will have the huevos rancheros. However, I forgot to ask if the eggs included a layer of beans (as opposed to beans on the side). They sometimes do come this way (in Mexico and here in the US) but I am not a fan of that style of preparation.

Well, I am very glad I forgot to ask about the beans, because they did come with a layer of beans on top of the fresh, tasty tortillas, and I probably would have ordered something else had I known. The moment I tasted these huevos, I knew I had to re-think my stand on beans, because these were great huevos rancheros, Fantastic, actually. The whole beans were in a smoky brown sauce with bacon, probably epazote, and not sure what else, but they were absolutely delicious and made the dish, although the very fresh salsa and perfectly cooked eggs over easy didn’t hurt either. I was in heaven. I cleaned my plate, and only regretted not ordering a side of tortillas to get every last drop of sauce and salsa.

Hubby is a big eggs benedict fan, so with at least three versions of benedict on the menu he was also in heaven. He chose the crab cakes benedict from the written weekend specials menu, at $11.95 the most expensive item on the breakfast menu, and worth every penny. The hollandaise was rich and flavorful, the eggs were done perfectly, the crab cakes were great…and as Ed mentioned in his post, the dish came with wonderful freshly cooked potatoes.

Service was friendly and efficient: our coffee mugs and water glasses were kept full. Total with tax but before tip was around $25, but then hubby did order from the very upper price end of the menu. In general, prices are quite reasonable, especially for food of this quality.

Can I ding Tico’s on anything? Oh sure: the roses in the vases on each table were a touch wilted.

Any more dings?: can’t think of a one. All of our food was fresh, delicious, and made with obvious care by a kitchen that knows what it is doing. Tico’s gets my highest recommendation. I can’t wait to go back. Thanks again, for this tip, Ed.

Next up, in Report Part II (may take a day or two): the Salinas Farmer’s Market, La Fogata in Salinas, and Ambrosia in Monterey.

-----
Passionfish
701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

Tico's Breakfast & Lunch
330 Reservation Rd, Marina, CA 93933

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  1. Nice report. The huevos sound great; I'll have to go there next time in the Monterey area.

    BTW, weren't you going to do a report on Chester/Lake Almanor? I'm going there next week for a few days and it would be quite useful.

    Thanks.

    1 Reply
    1. re: svL

      thanks, and yes, yes, sorry, I am behind on my reports....unfortunately, the best find of that trip wasn't near Chester at all: it was breakfast at Putah Creek Cafe in Winters. Not quite as good as Tico's, but very good, and definitely the best meal of that trip. Putah Creek Cafe is open for breakfast and lunch, right on the main street of Winters, and well worth a stop if you are heading that way (which you probably are, if coming from the bay area).

      Now that I am not travelling for a while, I will get caught up, and I will post on the rest of my trip up to Chester by the end of this week, hope it helps!

      Susan

    2. just wanted to add a link to this thread about green restaurants, which explains another reason PF is a favorite of mine (see #10)

      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/427276

      1. Great report on two of my favorites. You might enjoy my 3 part posting on Passionfish at Kirk's blog. It has pictures. This link is for posts on Monterey in general - and hopefully I will add some others - but right now, the PF posts are the only thing there:

        http://mmm-yoso.typepad.com/mmmyoso/m...

        ed

        8 Replies
        1. re: Ed Dibble

          Great link and reporting, thanks! The salmon dish you describe and liked so much was the same one hubby ordered, and despite the overcooked fish, he really enjoyed the flavors. Unfortunately, dill is one flavor I really actively dislike, even when it is subtle, so I didn't try the cucumber salad underneath, which did look good.

          And I have to try that sturgeon salad: without your photo and description I may have passed over it more than once, but it looks delicious.

          The Gruener Veltliner you mention is also a favorite of ours from the list, but alas hubby is off alchohol due to medication for a while, which is putting a bit of a crimp in my drinking as well since I can't finish an entire bottle alone. I guess at those prices I could have ordered it anyway and taken home 'leftovers'...the half bottle list is fine, but somewhat limited when compared to the full list (and sadly, they were out of my tried and true choice from the half bottle list, the Navarro Gewurtz...). Can't wait till hubby gets cleared to indulge again (we have our fingers crossed for the next doctor's visit, which will be before our next visit to the Monterey area and Passionfish.... :-))

          1. re: susancinsf

            Amusingly enough, I was at Passionfish last night with the rest of my (teetotaling) family, and I tried to order the Navarro Gewurtz, and was also disappointed! Also, we had breakfast at Tico's this morning. I'll report on my experiences at these two shortly, but I'll say nothing to contradict what's already been posted. --PR

            (PS I wasn't aware one could "take home the leftovers" with wine -- this is strictly forbidden where I live.)

            1. re: Prabhakar Ragde

              Looking forward to your report!

              It is indeed possible to take home 'leftovers'. (or at least I've done it and seen it done) here in CA. In fact, the server, when informing me they were out of the Gewurtz, did mention another full bottle on the list that he said was similar, and pointed out that I was 'welcome to take home what we couldn't finish'. This time I decided to stick with a half bottle, but oddly enough, the last time I did it was several years ago at Passionfish, when they had the Navarro Late Harvest Gewurtz on the menu (by the glass, on the dessert menu of course). Well, at the time the winery had just sold out and of course Navarro isn't readily available in stores ( and now you can't get the Late Harvest Gewurtz at all unless you had the foresight to put some in your cellar: they haven't produced it in several years. or at least if anyone knows where to get it, please post on the wine board!). Anyway, I asked if we could just have a full bottle, knowing we'd never finish it. No problem, and they brought out a nice take-home bag for the portion we didn't drink. However, co-owner Cindy did shake her head regretfully when on the way out I asked if she'd consider selling me half a case. To be honest, I am not sure if that was because it would be illegal to turn it into a retail operation, or if it was simply that she didn't want to give up her own limited supply.... :-) (alas, the Late Harvest Gewurtz is long since gone from the Passionfish wine list too, even by the glass)...

              1. re: Prabhakar Ragde

                In Calif. you can take the leftover wine home with you. And several jurisdictions that have forbidden this in the past are changing the rules, due to too many patrons chugging down the rest of the wine on premise and then driving home under the influence.

              2. re: susancinsf

                The sturgeon salad wasn't on the menu this year (and remember, it wasn't called a salad when it was offered - instead it was smoked sturgeon with celery and dates), but this year there was "smoked sturgeon tostadita" listed as a teaser for $4. Who knows what that is?

                If I hadn't had smoked sturgeon for the two previous years, I might have tried it.

                1. re: Ed Dibble

                  I saw the tostadita going to a neighborhood table....looked like, well, mini tostadas with fish and (I think?) cabbage. :-) The diner who ordered it seemed to enjoy it.

                  1. re: susancinsf

                    My younger daughter had this dish, which was listed as an appetizer and more than $4, I think. She says it was good, but it had chopped tomatoes and cilantro, not cabbage. Of course, they could be varying the recipe from night to night. --PR

              3. re: Ed Dibble

                Susan thank you for the great report. I am going to have to give Tico's a try one of these days.
                Ed: Great blog, pictures are awesome I've had some of the items you mentioned and all have been greatly enjoyed.

              4. I was at Passionfish and Tico's about three days after Susan.

                Passionfish: very impressed. The wine list and philosophy alone would do it. I could go there and just drink at the bar. But I wouldn't, because the food is also excellent. I started with an heirloom tomato salad with basil oil and ricotta salata: properly ripened, balanced, and bursting with flavour. My main was a special of fresh Monterey Bay spot prawns, a generous portion, properly grilled, with a corn-bacon-baby squash succotash. I would have been tempted by the peach cobbler for dessert, but alerted by Susan, I had the raspberries. I wouldn't say they were the best I've ever had, but they were very good, and the combination was a winner. All of the other dishes around the table were deemed successful by everyone. Service was friendly if a bit wonky around the edges.

                Passionfish would definitely go on our regular rotation if it were closer to home base. I might consider adjusting my accomodations next time I visit the area so that I can walk to it. I was surprised by the clientele, who seemed older and more conventional than the mix I tend to see at Bay Area restaurants. My two daughters were the only kids in the place (this was 7-9 on a Tuesday night).

                We were at Tico's at about 9:30 the next morning. It was nearly empty, which is good, because this place is tiny. They put together two 4-tops in the centre of the room for the five of us, leaving only four 2-tops and some plastic tables outside. The whiteboard specials and dessert board were as Susan described. We didn't have the benefit of the weekend specials. The regular menu has pancakes, french toast, four egg combinations, three variations on eggs benedict, four omelets, a pile of side orders, a dozen lunch salads/sandwiches, and four grilled sandwich options. One guy was doing all the cooking (Tico, perhaps?), visible through the large pass-through from the kitchen to the tiny bar.

                The food is not earthshaking, just very solid, and quite unexpected given the location in a nondescript strip mall on a divided commuter road. The berry pancakes had berries cooked in as well as in between and on top. Omelets were compact bundles whose filling stayed inside. The potatoes could have been crisper (though they would have been more evil) but they had a good flavour and didn't need any additional seasoning or condiments. Coffee was strong, fresh, and promptly refilled. The fresh fruit (available as a side order or as a substitution for potatoes and toast) had the expected bananas and strawberries, but also pineapple, raspberries, blueberries, and mango!

                We are not eat-out breakfast people, though we often have "special breakfasts" at home. Consensus was that among the breakfast places we have been to (usually dragged by others), Tico's stood out. I wouldn't call it a destination, but it's a very good way to start the day if you are in the area. --PR

                 
                 
                6 Replies
                1. re: Prabhakar Ragde

                  How lucky you were to hit Passionfish when spot prawns were on the menu! I've only seen them there perhaps twice. I did want to clarify for other readers (don't know if you were speaking figuratively or just didn't see all the rooms) that there is no actual bar (wine bar or otherwise: only wine and beer served) at Passionfish, though they will serve you glasses of wine while you wait in a small seating area with a view of some of their collection.

                  I suspect the crowd you saw was partially related to the fact that it was a weeknight...Pacific Grove strikes me as having a fairly staid, older population. (Who else could afford to live there? :-)) On weekends you are more likely to see tourist families and kids are fairly common.

                  If looking for a spot within (fairly long, but reasonable) walking distance, consider Asilomar. A good spot for families if you don't need TV, quite reasonably priced. However, decent but certainly not special breakfast is included, which doesn';t give me the incentive to go to Tico's.

                  http://www.visitasilomar.com/default....

                  They must anticipate bigger crowds on weekends at Tico's as there were perhaps three guys in the kitchen cooking. Hubby did mention that he got the impression watching him that the guy in charge (presumably Tico) was showing the others a few tricks, and that it would be a great kitchen to learn in...

                  Thanks for the report!

                  1. re: susancinsf

                    Yes, I was speaking figuratively. The waiting area at Passionfish is tiny and the seating areas long and narrow. I'm guessing that the kitchen is nicely laid out from the geometry of the place. I can't imagine three people in the kitchen at Tico's -- it looked crowded when the server went in to help garnish the dishes. But I guess I don't get to peek into the real shoeboxes that must be out there. Asilomar was full by the time I got around to reserving (we stayed in Salinas, and I will report shortly on our taco truck experiences) but I will keep it in mind for the next visit. --PR

                    1. re: Prabhakar Ragde

                      btw, when we were at Tico's, my impression just from watching the interactions was that it was our server who was in charge (ie Tico), not the guys in the kitchen.(I thought I saw three, but I suppose it could have been two...it appeared that some prep was being done in the side room, so I include it in my kitchen definition). It was the way he oversaw the work that impressed hubby: everything just seemed to run more smoothly than in many kitchens. He appeared to be explaining dishes to the cooks, watching over the busser and the other server as needed, etc. Guess I need to introduce myself next time and figure out for sure which guy is Tico...

                      Personally, I would call Tico's a destination spot, particularly compared given the rest of the places I've dined on the Peninsula, though granted, I don't get out for breakfast as much as I'd like...

                  2. re: Prabhakar Ragde

                    Nice report. I've never been at PF when spot prawns were available.

                    I am surprised about the potatoes at Tico's - usually they are seriously crunchy on the outside.

                     
                    1. re: Ed Dibble

                      The spot prawns were a serious amount of work. I could have used my Messermeister kitchen shears from home. Amusingly, I was asked if I would like them with heads on or heads off. I said heads on and that perhaps the server could bring them out and introduce them to me.

                      Here's an image of the potatoes -- I know you can't tell how crunchy they are from a photo, but they don't even look as crunchy as in your shot. --PR

                       
                      1. re: Prabhakar Ragde

                        You got lucky with the prawns, but unlucky with the potatoes. yeh, yours don't look so good. I can't claim to have had the potatoes often (I live 600 miles away), but my luck with them has been excellent.